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The Pooter: An Entomologist's Favorite Tool

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Entomologists everywhere are pooting for science. That’s not a euphemism—they’re using the scientific tools known as “pooters,” and they’re pooting up a storm.

A pooter (named for its inventor, William Poos, for real) is also called an insect aspirator. It’s a low-tech device with a bug at one end, a scientist’s mouth at the other, and a tube or tubes in between. The bug collector aims one end of the tube at the bug and inhales sharply, trapping the minibeast in the tube.

Many entomologists make their own pooters, since they have the supplies on hand, but a basic pre-fab pooter from a lab-supply company only costs about $8. (Coincidentally, the hand-held analog fart-noise-maker calling itself “The Original Pooter” will run you $7.95, unless you want a two-pack.)

Pooters can take many forms. There’s the electric pooter, the surgical tube pooter, the vacuum pooter, and the classic pooter. There are suck-type pooters and blow-type pooters. All of these pooters ideally have one thing in common: a piece of mesh or muslin at the mouth end to prevent pooter users from swallowing their research subjects.

This works … most of the time.

“I am sure that most, if not all of us, have managed to end up with a mouthful of small insects,” entomologist Simon Leather, Ph.D., wrote on his blog. Pooters see a lot of use, he tells mental_floss, and can get worn out. “You tend to just get your pooter out and poot without checking to see if the muslin is still there,” he says. “Luckily, most of the things I poot up are small and harmless.”

Other pooting hazards include “pooter’s mouth”—dry mouth or allergies caused by a long day of inhaling dust and leaf litter—and aspirating insect eggs without realizing it.

In the 1950s, an entomologist named Paul D. Hurd reported a rather surprising souvenir from his latest collecting trip, which he discovered when when he looked in his handkerchief and saw not just boogers, but bugs:

Approximately 2 mo. after the completion of the past summer's work at Point Barrow I became ill. During the week following the onset of illness four major groups of insects … were passed alive from the left antrum of the sinus.

Because it’s cheap, portable, and precise, the pooter has become a favorite tool of entomologists and budding scientists around the world. There are several Australian “Make a Pooter!” lesson plans. One reminds the reader not to suck up stinging or poisonous insects. Another lesson plan suggests other fun activities like breeding mosquitoes, or making a pooter that can suck up tadpoles.

There are even pooting contests. Years before she discovered the peacock spiders known as Sparklemuffin and Skeletorus, researcher Madeline Girard took home first and second place in two consecutive Poot-Offs.

To the uninitiated, pooting may seem a little weird. But to the dedicated men and women of science who have made insects their living, it’s really a wonderful tool.

Dr. Leather keeps a pooter in his jacket pocket and a portable magnifying glass on a lanyard around his neck. “If you really want to understand the wonders of the world,” he says, “you’ve got to look at the small things.”

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Scientists May Have Found the Real Cause of Dyslexia—And a Way to Treat It
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iStock

Dyslexia is often described as trying to read letters as they jump around the page. Because of its connections to reading difficulties and trouble in school, the condition is often blamed on the brain. But according to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the so-called learning disability may actually start in the eyes.

As The Guardian reports, a team of French scientists say they've discovered a key physiological difference between the eyes of those with dyslexia and those without it. Our eyes have tiny light-receptor cells called rods and cones. The center of a region called the fovea is dominated by cones, which are also responsible for color perception.

Just as most of us have a dominant hand, most have a dominant eye too, which has more neural connections to the brain. The study of 60 people, divided evenly between those with dyslexia and those without, found that in the eyes of non-dyslexic people, the arrangement of the cones is asymmetrical: The dominant eye has a round, cone-free hole, while the other eye has an unevenly shaped hole. However, in people with dyslexia, both eyes have the same round hole. So when they're looking at something in front of them, such as a page in a book, their eyes perceive exact mirror images, which end up fighting for visual domination in the brain. This could explain why it's sometimes impossible for a dyslexic person to distinguish a "b" from a "d" or an "E" from a "3".

These results challenge previous research that connects dyslexia to cognitive abilities. In a study published earlier this year, people with the condition were found to have a harder time remembering musical notes, faces, and spoken words. In light of the new findings, it's unclear whether this is at the root of dyslexia or if growing up with vision-related reading difficulties affects brain plasticity.

If dyslexia does come down to some misarranged light-receptors in the eye, diagnosing the disorder could be as simple as giving an eye exam. The explanation could also make it easy to treat without invasive surgery. In the study, the authors describe using an LED lamp that blinks faster than the human eye can perceive to "cancel out" one of the mirror images perceived by dyslexic readers, leaving only one true image. The volunteers who read with it called it a "magic lamp." The researchers hope to further experiment with it to see see if it's a viable treatment option for the millions of people living with dyslexia.

[h/t The Guardian]

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